I spent my childhood in northern California in a tiny town east of the Bay Area. Each year my parents would take us to Calaveras Big Trees State Park. My sisters and I loved walking through the majestic sequoias and feeling the peace of the old forest, and I’ve wanted to share that with my boys for a long time. So we planned a trip that took us through Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park and ended up at Big Trees.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park has changed quite a bit since I was last there with lots of updates, new signs, and new cabins for lodging. But one thing was the same, and that was the trees. The Giant Sequoias remained and were as amazing as I remembered. There are a lot of neat things at this California State Park.
We stayed in one of the new cabins at Big Trees, and it was really nice. There were two bedrooms, a small kitchen, a large living area, and a bathroom. There is also a table outside. We suggest you check out the cabins if you plan on staying near the park. There are campgrounds, too. The cabins are a little on the pricey side ($165/night), but you could easily share this with lots of people if you bring cots and air mattresses. We loved that we could cook our own meals and not spend money at restaurants. There are 4 different cabins, and no one else was staying when we were there. For more information on the cabins, visit the CA State Park website.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park has a small Visitor Center. It is really just one large room, but we spent a few minutes looking at all of the animals on display. They had a couple of skins to touch, which our boys always love, and there were some interactive displays teaching about the different types of trees in Big Trees. There was also a small gift shop attached to the Visitor Center if you are looking for souvenirs.
There are two groves of Sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The North Grove is the most visited, and that is where the Visitor Center is. The first thing to see is the Discovery Tree Stump. This tree was the first one discovered in 1852, and tales told about it seemed so fantastical that most people thought it was a tall tale. It certainly was tall, and the stump measures 24 feet in diameter with the overall height of the tree reaching 363 feet!
Unfortunately, the following year, the tree was cut down. This took three weeks and required augur drills and chisels. It also planted the seeds of conservation in America as many people saw the death of a 1,244 year old as a tragedy. You can still climb up Discovery Stump, which was polished into a dance floor. You can also see much of the length of the tree, which had a bar and bowling alley built on top. This is located directly behind the Visitor Center.
Honestly, the Discovery Stump made me a little sad, but the walk through the North Grove was really peaceful. It’s about a mile through the grove and it weaves in and out of massive sequoias, which, unlike redwoods, share the forest with other kinds of trees. You can pick up a map that names each of the trees and gives more information on many of them. We really enjoyed having the trail guide as we meandered through the sequoias.
There is also a short Three Senses Trail in the North Grove. The trail walks through a section of the forest, and has different signs that teach about the different plants you find living among the Giant Sequoias. It is only 1/4 mile long, but we enjoyed reading the signs and using different senses to notice the plant life in the forest.
We also drove down to the South Grove, which is much larger than the North Grove. The hike is more serene, too, as it is less traveled. The reason it is less traveled is because you walk for a mile before you even get to the grove. Then the full loop is over five miles, unlike the North Grove, which is right next to the parking lot. We walked about three total miles out and back rather than going all the way around the loop. Our boys were hot and tired, so we ran out of steam to complete the hike through the South Grove. We also crossed Beaver Creek on this hike. We saw a few people wading in the water, and if we had planned better, we would have joined them on the hot July day we were there.
Junior Ranger Program
Calaveras Big Trees State Park also has great programs for kids. Our boys spent an hour at special classes earning badges similar to Junior Ranger patches called Junior Explorers. There were classes for our older boys and for toddlers, so check the schedule when you arrive. We were really impressed with the rangers and all of the planning they put into these classes. They had lots of fun, interactive activities. In our youngest son’s class, the ranger even dressed like a Giant Sequoia as he taught him about the trees and the animals that depend on them. The older boys played games, and went on a small hike.
By far our favorite activity was when the ranger took a sequoia pinecone and knocked the seeds out. We couldn’t believe how small they were. They looked like a tiny oat. Out of that small seed, the tallest trees in the world grow. There are lots of great lessons to be taught from that.
We really had a wonderful time in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The boys loved it as much as I hoped. This park is a little off the beaten path, but it’s definitely worth a visit.